Practical Faith – Wisdom (James 3:13-4:3)

Bible Passage: James 3:13-4:3

James continues his exploration of how we put faith into practice by looking at the area of wisdom.

Different Kinds of Wisdom (v13-15): When the Bible speaks about wisdom, it does so in a number of different ways. Some of these forms of wisdom are viewed extremely positively, whilst others are treated as negative things. Some people are considered to be ‘wise in their own eyes’. This is when somebody has concluded that they know what they need to and are closed to correction from others. Such a person may know much about the sciences, arts or humanities, yet they are haughty and conceited and making a shipwreck of their life. It is this kind of wisdom that James considers to be earthly, unspiritual and demonic. It is laden with selfish ambition and boasting. It does not produce righteousness or humility and it is to be avoided.

A second type of wisdom is the wisdom to make life work. There is a sense in which this wisdom could be considered earthly, because it deals with very practical matters, but it is not the kind of wisdom that James condemns as he speaks of earthly wisdom. Much of the books of Proverbs is taken up with this kind of wisdom (see for example Prov. 10:4, 15:1, 18:17). This wisdom is from God, but applied to practical situations. This kind of wisdom is available to believers and unbelievers alike and it is simply understanding how God has made the world to work and applying these principles to a prudent life.

The third type of wisdom the Bible talks about is ‘spiritual wisdom’ and it is this which James is commending in this passage. This kind of wisdom is more than simply doing the day to day well, but it is the wisdom that brings a touch of heaven to earth. This wisdom has to do with character. Instead of just teaching us what to do to create a desired result, wisdom from above addresses the desires themselves. As well as the ‘what’, this wisdom is about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ and is the kind of wisdom we will increasingly pursue as we walk with Jesus.

Characteristics of Wisdom (v16-18): True wisdom involves putting God’s ways into practice in our lives. This impacts us at the level of our character, and James highlights a number of characteristics that this wisdom produces.

  • Pure – Wisdom from above is uncontaminated. It is not filled with mixed motives but genuinely seeks God’s glory and the good of others.
  • Peaceable – Wisdom isn’t about picking fights. Others may be wrong, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an argument needs to be started. True wisdom is concerned with relationships of peace.
  • Gentle – Wisdom isn’t simply worried about doing the right thing, but doing the right thing in the right way. A winsome approach that cares for the feelings of others is a feature of godly wisdom.
  • Willing to yield – Sometimes, when a person thinks they have heard from God, the conversation is over. No matter what is said to them, they will not back down. James tells us that godly wisdom means being willing to yield and let the other person have their way.
  • Full of mercy and good fruits – Wisdom of God reflects God’s heart. It is other-person focussed and pays particular attention to the poor and needy.
  • Without a trace of partiality – Godly wisdom doesn’t play favourites. Just because we like somebody doesn’t mean we can treat them better than we would treat somebody else. When our wisdom comes from above, we will put aside any prejudices and treat each case on its merits.
  • Without hypocrisy – There is no place for duplicity in godly wisdom. It involves letting the outside match the inside and being true to who we are.

James teaches us that the result of this wisdom is a harvest of righteousness. As in the parable of the sower where the seed on the good soil multiplies, thirty, sixty and one hundred times, so it will be as we build our lives on the wisdom from above.

How to Get Wisdom (v1-3): The beginning of chapter 4 should be understood in terms of what James has just been teaching about wisdom. As he describes conflicts and disputes, he is referring back to the selfish ambition that he referred to in 3:16. But when we do this, we miss the simple truth that we could ask God rather than fighting with one another. James says that we do not have because we do not ask God, and whilst this is true for many different things, in context it probably refers back to 1:5 where he has already explained that if we lack wisdom then we can ask God for it.

Potential Applications:

  • This is the second time in James that he has told us we can ask for wisdom. You could have some time as a congregation where you come to God and ask for his wisdom.
  • Lots of characteristics of true wisdom are highlighted. You could invite people to dwell on these and identify one that they want to grow in.